City schools start with teacher vacancies, new salad bars

Joey Matthews | 9/4/2015, 3:57 a.m.
Timothy Billups and his staff in the Richmond Public Schools Department of Human Resources began the summer with the daunting ...

Timothy Billups and his staff in the Richmond Public Schools Department of Human Resources began the summer with the daunting task of filling nearly 400 teacher vacancies.

With school bells set to ring for the new RPS school year Tuesday, Sept. 8, they’ve whittled that number to well under 100.

The latest tally submitted by Mr. Billups on Aug. 25 to the Free Press shows 76 vacant teacher positions — five in elementary schools, 41 in secondary schools and 30 in special education.

Those numbers are sure to further shrink before school starts.

RPS spokesperson Richard Davis said the district would address any teaching vacancies once school begins by using “qualified, long-term substitute teachers.”

Meanwhile, RPS continues to lead its suburban counterparts in providing nutritious meals to its students.

Last year, it became the only district in the region to provide a free breakfast and lunch to each of its more than 20,000 students.

Now, the district is installing salad bars at 20 of its schools in a staggered rollout impacting roughly 12,000 students, Mr. Davis said.

The project is called “Eat Fresh RPS” and will expose students to “more fresh produce and fruits” and “will shape their eating habits, which will shift their health behaviors for life,” Mr. Davis said.

RPS’ School Nutrition Services is paying for the salad bars with a $100,000 grant from Impact 100 along with $20,000 from the Richmond City Health District to retrofit and install them. The Salad Bars Move to Schools program also contributed $52,500 for equipment.

Neither Henrico or Chesterfield counties has salad bars in its schools, spokesmen for each district told the Free Press last week.

A reporter also sought to discuss with the nine School Board members what they see as the biggest challenges facing RPS as the start of the school year nears.

Board Chair Donald Coleman, 7th District, was the lone board member to not provide an answer.

“Our school facilities continue to keep me up at night,” said Kimberly B. “Kim” Gray, 2nd District. “We are at a critical place where getting the funding in a timely manner or not will move us forward or cripple us.”

Tichi Pinkney Eppes, 9th District, was more succinct.

“Trust,” was her one-word reply.

Mamie Taylor, 5th District, stated, “I see RPS’ biggest hurdle in my district as finding a way to better communicate to the public policies that are to their benefit.”

Derik Jones, 8th District, said, “We must develop a long-term plan to address max-populated elementary schools on South Side through a fresh rezoning plan and construct a new elementary school in the next 24 months.”

Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District, said, “In my district, we have gone through leadership changes in two schools (Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Overby-Sheppard Elementary School) which can be extremely frustrating for teachers, students and the community. It feels like we are starting the race again.”

Glen Sturtevant Jr., 1st District, said, “Substantial SOL reform is needed to guarantee that our children receive a more comprehensive and holistic education.”

Vice Chair Kristen Larson, 4th District, said the opening of Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School at 7825 Forest Hill Ave. allows the district to “wipe the slate clean” and provide an opportunity for greater academic achievement and more autonomy at the school.

By adding students from now closed Elkhardt Middle School and changing the school name during the summer, Thompson Middle School was taken off the list of schools denied accreditation. Elkhardt also was hovering close to accreditation denial, but the building closed in February because of mold and other air quality issues. Its students were shifted to the former Clark Springs Elementary School building in the Randolph community.

Jeffrey Bourne, 3rd District, said the biggest challenge “is our ability to focus on what’s important — the academic success of our students. We have been making important progress in many areas and we need to continue along that path.”